Universiteit Leiden

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PhD project

Spectacle and Surveillance: The Making and Unmaking of Collective Visual History

What is the iconography of propaganda specifically as it relates to the historical development of political ideologies in modern Egypt and how was/is this propaganda disseminated among creative fields such as cinema, art, monuments, architecture, and literature?

We live in a world dominated by images, of watching and being watched, a world of spectacle (Guy Debord) and surveillance (Michel Foucault). Within our contemporary regime of visuality, established norms of visibility are regulated by institutionalized and policed systems, in what Jacques Rancière refers to as the “distribution of the sensible”. In this regime, spectators are subject to governmental politics, hierarchical media, and consumer culture.

During the current era of “crisis globalization” (T.J. Demos) questions of dispossession and statelessness – particularly in the Middle East – negotiate the definition of identity and nationalism, placing historiography into question. Furthermore, digital reconfigurations of representation and distribution have stripped the image of its truth-value and forensic originality, establishing the ‘poor image’ (Hito Steyerl) as the visual currency of our time.

Emerging from these concepts, this research project examines the political instrumentation of images within cultural production in modern Egypt. Through research-based investigations into collective historical archives, narratives or objects are placed in dialogue with sociopolitical realities. Operating on the nexus between art practices and archival forms, the aim is to investigate how images – and their destruction – can influence interpretations of Egyptian political history.

The research departs from the publication Walls of Freedom which, as part of a larger framework of examining political street art, initiated investigations into the state of the Egyptian identity crisis shaped by post-colonialism, religious fanaticism and nationalism/militarization. The subsequent series of publications and exhibitions will expand on these initial points, further investigating Egyptian identity as shaped by a set of constructed, and sometimes fabricated, narratives and images.

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